Wednesday, 12 March 2014

All around my hat



If you've been reading for a little while, you'll have seen me mention weaving with Debs at Salix Arts. Whenever I go I know there will be a warm welcome, and wonderful food, and that I'll come away having made something fabulous.

But one of the best parts is the glorious willow Debs prepares for use in her workshops. I've bought a fair amount of willow now and hers is easily the most consistently lovely. This year she's asked me to lend a hand harvesting the current crop and I thought I'd share what's involved. (I can't share my back ache with you but it's nothing a hot bath won't sort out!)


Willow grown for harvest is coppiced and sprouts up from little stumps called stools. Each rod must be removed each year, by hand. This is straightforward but can be hard on the back and requires concentration if you're to avoid being poked repeatedly in the eye.


The willow beds are wet and muddy, and not a good place to drop secateurs (can you tell I've done this?!) Speaking of which, it's become very clear to me that oiling and sharpening tools becomes a daily job if you want to avoid hurting your wrists.


Once cut, the willow needs to be sorted by length and thickness - the high tech solution we use is to dump all the rods into a metal bin and then pull out the longest rods a few at a time and slowly, slowly group them into different piles. It's a toss up between sorting as you cut each armful, or cutting masses and sorting all at once. At the moment, the warm weather means the sap is starting to rise and the buds are threatening to break so we are cutting as fast as we can and bundling later.


After sorting, the rods are laid across a brilliant contraption that holds them together while we tie them with baler twine. Then they're ready to be taken back to Salix Arts.

At this point, what we have is called "green willow" - nothing to do with the colour. It's full of water and thus not great for basket making as it will shrink enormously as it dries. But it is gloriously coloured and amazingly flexible, and perfect for sculpture or making living willow structures. In a couple of months it will have dried out at which point it can be resoaked and made into all sorts of baskets and plant supports and decorations. But right now, I am using it to sharpen my skills in willow sculpture and little baskets that may shrink before summer is out but are perfect for spring flowers.


I have back ache, hand cramp, blisters and at the end of the day am tired to the point of exhaustion, but when the sun is out and the birds are singing, it's hard to think of a better place to be. If you'd like to keep up to date with the harvest you can follow me on twitter where I'm posting updates using the hashtag "willowharvest"

31 comments:

  1. Gosh that sounds like hard work! But it must be very rewarding too when you finish the day with a lovely stack of willow. I absolutely love your willow pheasant! xx

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  2. Wow -- what a lot of work! It does sound like fun though. I would think it would be good to weave a basket and then have it shrink -- wouldn't it tighten it up?

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  3. Hi Anna,

    No, it's just the opposite - as the willow shrinks you end up with more space between the rows and it gets really rattly and wobbly. Would be great if it worked the other way!

    Val x

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  4. Hello Lucy,

    Awww, thank you - I'm working on some more birds at the moment as I enjoyed him so much. And yes, it is rewarding - I can't remember enjoying a job so much. Even in the rain ;)

    Val x

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  5. Crikey it does sound like back breaking work but also incredibly fulfilling. The new shoots look vibrant at this time of year x Jane

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    1. They really are stunning - the variation in colour and buds and leaves between the varieties is astonishing!

      Val x

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  6. Hard work but worth all the aches when you make such beautiful things :-)

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  7. Oh, that lovely basket! Here in Devon, lots of cottages have willow animals on the ridge lines of the roofs. They are so charming, like your willow bird. I especially like the foxes and pheasants.

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    1. The daffodils are blooming even more beautifully now. I really doubt it will last very well - at the very least the colour will fade - but it's just right for spring.

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  8. I really love hearing about your weaving. How wonderful to be in at the start of the product, the harvesting, and to take the raw material and make such beautiful things out of it. The green willow sculpture and basket are wonderful.

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    1. I do feel very much more connected to the whole process now I've been in from the start, and even more determined not to waste any willow in future!

      Val x

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  9. I am in awe of your willowy skills and love that you are now harvesting. Have you planted any willow in your garden?? Go and have your bath now. Ax

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    1. No willow in my garden I'm afraid - it's too small really and willow is very thirsty so I'd be worried it would find underground pipes with its roots and cause havoc with the listed buildings on either side of us!

      Val x

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  10. This is so interesting, Val! Thanks very much for writing about the process and including so many helpful pictures. I was just telling someone the other day about you and your colorful willow adventures!
    (But...your "hat""?)

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    1. Ah, you're welcome, I'm glad you enjoyed them - the same way I enjoy hearing about your life with your lovely animals!

      And I'm afraid the title is a reference to an old song by Steeleye Span "All around my hat, I will wear the green willow". A dodgy blog title, especially as *whispers* I can't stand the song :)

      Val x

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  11. gosh that looks like hard work, but what wonderful things you will create !

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    1. I think I'll only be taking home a very small fraction of this harvested stuff :-) I can;t imagine weaving an enormous amount of it - though I do have my eye on some very fine stuff I've cut in the last day or two ...

      Val x

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  12. It all sounds fabulous and I'm in awe of your amazing weaving skills

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    1. Thanks Gina - I feel as if I'm hitting my stride now!

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  13. Oh no! I'm going to be singing all the rest of the day now, and my DDs don't really like that! How wonderful to be involved in the harvest, even if your back and wrists aren't thanking you at the moment! Thanks for sharing all the photos - willows look great and so does your weaving!

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    1. Ooops, sorry about the earworm - not the best one to have either!

      Val x

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  14. So interesting to hear about how the willow is grown and harvested. And beautiful creations too, as always! R x

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  15. You make wonderful things, clever thing!

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  16. Gosh, that was really interesting. It sounds like hard work, but the results speak for themselves. That little basket containing the narcissi has so many different colours!

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  17. Wow, that was so interesting. Looks like you had a hard but worthwhile day. Love the daffs in the basket :)

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  18. Honestly, it's a privilege to follow your journey towards mastery of this amazing craft. Having grown up on the edge of the Somerset Levels I know all about the work that goes into growing and cropping willow ... I remember being told that Epsom Salts in your bath water is the way to go. Hope you've ironed out the aches now x

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  19. How wonderful to be able to work with the willow from harvest through to your beautiful finished designs.

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  20. Gosh that is so interesting!! How fab.

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  21. A lot more complicated than I thought. I shall look at my bundle of willow at school with new eyes. What is your next project? Hope the back has now recovered.
    X

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  22. This was so interesting to read! I've always wanted to try willow weaving - maybe now I will. :)

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